Why I Relay
Saturday, July 16, 2005 was supposed to be a great day. I had signed up for a cancer walk in Atlanta and went that morning to do a training walk with some friends. I was so excited to do something to honor of my mom who had just finished going through a breast cancer battle, complete with surgery, radiation, chemo and reconstructive surgery and just months earlier had been told she was cancer free. When I walked in the door to the house I shared with Kelly & Mel I should have known something was up we are never home at the same time. They told me that my mom was trying to get ahold of me and to call her back. That phone call forever changed my life. My mom’s cancer was backthis time there was a tumor that was crushing two vertebrae in her back. The prognosis wasn’t good; we were told to expect her to live another 3 years.
I hung up confused, sad, and most of all, ANGRY. How dare cancer try to attack my mother, my best friend? There were a LOT of tears that day… tears as I called my brothers and sister and some good friends. Millions of thoughts ran through my head including “why my mom”, “how are we going to deal with this” and even selfish ones like “who’s going to help me pick out my wedding dress when she’s gone?” The next decision was simple: I was going to move back to Syracuse where she lived to spend time with her and help her in any way I could. It seemed like an obvious choice since I was young and could put my life on hold. So I packed up my car and moved back home. While it was hard leaving my friends and my life, it was great to be home and get to spend time with my family.
Our family knows how to have fun and we got to spend a lot of great time together. My mom had a blast surrounding herself with her children and grandchildren. Luke, Addyson, Kellen and Grace brought my mom so much joy and lots of distractions from what was going on medically. We celebrated lots of birthdays, holidays, soccer games and other family outings together. Our family also adopted a philosophy that humor is the best medicine so we shared lots of laughs too... including some about the future… you’ll hear more of that in a minute!
While my mom had been through this before with her first diagnosis, I had been living in Atlanta and come home to visit a lot, but I didn’t realize how many appointments there were... wow… CT scans, MRIs, x-rays, chemo, radiation, and doctor appointments were quickly being scheduled. My mom had been on the American Cancer Society funded clinical trial for Herceptin with her first diagnosis. Now they had even more trials and drugs for her to go on. We decided to go with Tomaxifin, another drug that is available thanks to American Cancer Society research.
With all this great work being done by drugs that were discovered thanks to the American Cancer Society, I understood why my mom was so passionate about them. She got very involved with the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, or ACS CAN for short. ACS CAN works to push our government to make sure cancer is a priority. My mom believed that cancer must be a national priority of our government if we were going to find a cure. She asked me if I would go with her to Celebration on the Hill, a gathering of other ACS CAN ambassadors where you meet with your elected officials to let them know we want cancer funding to be a priority. Of course I said yes, how do you say no to your dying mother (see the family humor philosophy?!). That experience was a turning point in how I looked at my mom’s prognosis.Instead of the “what will” questions, I switched to “what if”… what if I chose to have an outlook like my mom did? What if I decided to fight back against this terrible disease? Ultimately, it came down to “what if I could carry on my mom’s legacy?”
I went back to Central New York with a new outlook. I contacted our local ACS office and asked how I can start a Colleges Against Cancer chapter at the college I was attending and get a Relay For Life started with it. My best friend Danielle and I co-founded our CAC chapter in September 2007 and had our first Relay in 2009. That first year we doubled our goal, raising over $36,000 in the fight back against cancer. My entire family was there to cheer my mom on at the first annual survivor lap, at an event inspired by her furious fight. Over the next 10+ years, our college has raised over $400,000 to help the American Cancer Society.
After volunteering with ACS I knew that I wanted to work for them. As I tell people, I don’t believe in ACS because I work for them, I work for them because I believe in them! In March 2010 I was offered a job with ACS in Atlanta which I quickly accepted. It had been 5 years since my mom’s second diagnosis, and the cancer knew my mom was a fighter but it was hard at work trying to counter her battle. While getting ready to move back to Atlanta I asked my mom if she would move with me; the doctors figured she’d only have about 9 months left and I felt that I could still be her primary caregiver while also giving her one more adventure while she was able to. After much family discussion, my mom agreed and moved to Atlanta in May.
Caregiving for my mom was, without a doubt, the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It was stressful, physically draining and an emotional rollercoaster. I wouldn’t have traded a single second of it. On October 17, 2010 my mom got her angel wings. At her funeral I spoke about a picture that hung in her bedroom from as long as I can remember. It had a painted candle on it and said “life is no brief candle to me, it is a burning torch to be passed on.”
That’s why I’m here today. I am going to carry my mom’s torch because I refuse to let another person lose their parent to this dreadful disease. My niece Grace was only 18 months old when her Grandma died and she has zero memories. In 2016 our family welcomed my niece Harper to the family, who will never have a picture of her with her grandmother - how dare cancer rob her of that.
To add to the story, in March 2018 my Aunt Yvonne. who helped raise me and my brothers since before I was born, was diagnoised with cancer. In July 2019 she passed away after a heroic battle against the disease. She leaves behind my uncle who she was married to for 49 years, two children and 6 grandkids who were the center of her life. It's not fair and we can do something about it.
I relay for future generations, so they don’t ever have to lose a parent, grandparent or loved one to cancer. My name is Ginny St.Onge and I am a Relayer.